By Nathan BeesWhilst it is probably a longer-term advantage to have not been in Johnstone’s Paint Trophy action this midweek, I wouldn’t mind betting that the Rovers players would have preferred to have got back on the pitch as quickly as possible after the 2-0 defeat at Leyton Orient last Saturday.
We didn’t quite reach the levels of performance that we have done recently - something Darrell Clarke admitted post-match.
We didn’t do ourselves justice, which was probably more disappointing than the result itself because defeat away at Orient is by no means something to be embarrassed about. From a Gas perspective it is just frustrating that we didn’t play to our best - if we did, we would have made an already close game even more interesting.
With nobody having played at the top of their game, it would have been nice for the lads if they could have got it out of their systems with a game on Tuesday night. As a result of our JPT first round bye, though, we have had an empty week to work on things.
To be honest, that is probably no bad thing. It means come Sunday lunchtime we will be refreshed and ready to prove what we are all about against a strong Oxford United side.
We are level on points with the U’s, although their route to 9 points has seen them remain unbeaten in the five league fixtures played thus far. From that you get an idea of how organised and solid their team is this year, and the fact they have already scored 9 league goals suggests they have no trouble at the other end of the pitch either (thanks mainly to the goalscoring exploits of Kemar Roofe and Danny Hylton).
With us having won three games in a row prior to Orient, though, we have proven that we can pack a punch ourselves, so I fancy that we - and the Sky Sports cameras - will be in for an entertaining game.
I am intrigued to see how we will line up, as Darrell changed things about at half-time last weekend in a bid to get us back in the game. Of course, we have started the season as well as we have by playing 3-5-2, and it has allowed us to exert ourselves on our opponents by winning the midfield battle. The key to our success was the threat our attack-minded wing-backs provided, particularly that of the ever-improving Dan Leadbitter on the right side.
With Leadbitter missing last weekend through injury, young Tyler Lyttle was handed his professional debut and assumed the RWB role. Unfortunately he was unable to make the same impact and the formation clearly wasn’t working for us. In an effort to turn things around Darrell reverted to a 4-4-2 in the second period, and whilst we performed a lot better, we still didn’t manage to force a goal or two.
The question is, therefore, what will Darrell decide to do this weekend? Revert back to 3-5-2, perhaps deploying our new signing Adam Drury at RWB, or stick with 4-4-2 and give wingers Cristian Montano and Jeffrey Monakana the chance to show what they are all about?
I think the 3-5-2 formation has a lot of potential. It suits the whole team, but especially the likes of Stuart Sinclair and Ollie Clarke in central midfield, as they have more people in and around them to forge attacks with. It also gives us the stability of having an extra man in central defence, with Tom Lockyer, Tom Parkes and James Clarke forming a strong and impressive back-line in front of the intimidating presence of Aaron Chapman between the sticks.
Having said that, I can see why 4-4-2 may be the better option this weekend. Oxford have drawn both of their previous two away matches and although I haven’t seen them play myself, I wouldn’t mind betting they tend to set up in a way that makes them difficult to break down. If that is the case, getting at them and putting balls into the box is likely to be the best way to test their resolve, which sounds right up Montano’s street. I would imagine, given the fact he has been used sparingly as a substitute recently, he would relish the opportunity to make an impact on a game in front of his own supporters.
The watching nation will undoubtedly be keen for an end-to-end encounter, but I would take an absolute borefest if it resulted in Rovers coming out on top. If we play anywhere near our best there is no reason why we shouldn’t be anything other than confident about our chances. If we can get a victory ahead of a second successive home game next weekend against Accrington Stanley, we can really cement our place amongst the early-season pace-setters.
Enjoy your Saturday off, Gasheads - just make sure you are at The Mem in plenty of time for the 12.15pm kick off on Sunday. Then, it is all about cheering on the lads to what will hopefully be a massive 3 points.
Come on Rovers, come on you blues!